Anna Gunn, (center, with arms folded), Alysia Reiner, Amy Fox and investors, (left), Sarah Megan Thomas, Meera Menon and investors, (right), NYC, 4/18/16
A sleek and compelling thriller with a lot on its mind, “Equity” is set in the world of big money and high tech. Naomi Bishop (a hypnotic Anna Gunn), a highly driven and successful investment banker at Remson Partners, needs a spectacular IPO to restore her reputation after a recent deal fell apart and during the process she was perceived as less than pleasing, held to finance’s double standard for acceptable female behavior.
“Equity,” the first film to foreground the story of a powerful woman on Wall Street was made by women: director Meera Menon, screenwriter Amy Fox and producers Alysia Reiner and Sarah Megan Thomas, who developed the story (with Amy) and also star. It was financed by real-life Naomis (spearheaded by executive producer Candy Straight), women who have carved out important careers in a field where a female CEO of one of the 22 largest United States investment banks/financial firms is as rare as a unicorn. (Bluntly: there have been none; optimistically: not yet.)
Naomi’s abrasive boss, Randall (Lee Tergesen), the firm’s global head (who gives pride of place on his oversized desk to a wooden Jenga tower), is soon to step down. His clenched-teeth pleasure in dousing her ambition to succeed him, “It’s not your year,” fuels her determination to break ground and be appropriately rewarded. (Speaking about her work on a panel at an alumni meet-and-greet, Naomi bluntly states, “I like money.”)
With her assistant Erin Manning (Sarah Megan Thomas), long on ambition, short on loyalty, and her team, Naomi pursues Cachet, a Silicon Alley darling, convincing Ed (Samuel Roukin), the arrogant CEO (typical tech hipster with long hair and a wardrobe of hoodies), to let her underwrite his IPO.
Moving though a world of cooly elegant and expensive public and private interiors (Philadelphia–where history is being made this week–ably stands in for New York), Naomi is uneasy, both in her professional and extremely narrow private life.
Having a drink after reconnecting with an old friend, Samantha Ryan (Alysia Reiner), who’s now working in the Justice Department, Naomi quickly determines from Sam’s clumsy questions that she’s investigating corruption on Wall Street. She has a enduring but uncommitted relationship with Michael (James Purefoy), a broker in another division of Remson, who likes the gamesmanship as much as payout, and who seems unbound by regulations put in place to prevent insider trading.
A potentially catastrophic problem with the Cachet IPO arises on the eve of the offering and when Erin arrives at Michael’s art-filled duplex loft, unable to hide her desperation to find Naomi, he casually invites her in. Sensing her hunger to surpass her boss, he manipulates her, lying about Naomi’s business ethics, implying she breached the firewall and told him about the Cachet deal. Believing Naomi has betrayed him sexually, he retaliates ferociously.
“Equity” will open on Friday, July 29 at Lincoln Plaza Cinema and Angelica Film Center. Alysia Reiner, Sarah Megan Thomas, and Amy Fox will participate in Q&As at both venues.
In April, for Sony Pictures Classics, working with amazing, unflappable Shannon Treusch Goss of Falco Ink., I photographed “Equity’s” “Film Five” and 13 of the investors, both individual portraits and variously configured groups. It was a really fun day of shooting, conversations and food.
While we were waiting for everyone to arrive, one woman asked if she could use my Wi-Fi. Of course. Another told me that her colleague was a member of the RNC and had some pressing committee work. “Wow, really? I’m not sure I’ve ever had Republicans in my studio before.”
As I talked politics (if I’d been taught that it’s rude to do that, I guess it didn’t take) with several of the women (all of whom were horrified by Trump, then steamrolling his way to the Republican nomination), they told me that they felt abandoned by their party in many ways. But I couldn’t get them to tell me who they’d support in November.